Custom challenge coins are medallions or tokens that are commonly used in the military. These tokens are approximately 1/10-inch thick and about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. These are commonly made from copper, nickel, silver, bronze, pewter and other kinds of metal. Some coins have arrow and shield designs. Some have enamel highlights and complex shapes.
The complexity or simplicity of the design of the custom challenge coin depends on the organization’s symbol, emblem, insignia or motto which can prove one’s membership and rank.
A challenge tradition using these coins is commonly done to increase one’s morale and achievement. There are times that a challenge coin is used to trade for a coin of another organization.
History of Custom Challenge Coins
The history of custom challenge coins is still unclear. There are few evidences about the origin of the challenge coins. Some say that the Roman empire used coins as rewards to the soldiers, mainly to recognize their achievements.
One famous story of its origin can be traced back to World War I. During that time, United Stated formed new flying squadrons in which some of its troops came from wealthy scions who quit school so they could join the war.
In one of these squadrons was a wealthy lieutenant who bought bronze medallions to give to his unit. One of the pilots placed his token inside his leather purse, which is tied around his neck.
Unfortunately, these pilots were gunned down and this young pilot, who placed his coin inside a small leather purse, was forced to land close to his German enemies. He was captured by these Germans, and all of his personal identification was taken except his small leather purse.
One night, the young pilot escaped by taking advantage of bombings. From then on, he disguised himself as a common civilian to escape from German patrols. He was able to make his way to France.
However, the French thought that he was a spy and he was scheduled for execution because he failed to prove his identity as an ally. He instead presented the medallion from his small leather purse. The French recognized the insignia of alliance and delayed his execution that paved way to confirm his identity. Because of that, he received a bottle of wine from them.
The second story that tells how custom challenge coins came to be happened during World War II. It is said that it was the Office of Strategic Service that first used the coins.
The coins were used as local coins to prove a person’s identity and membership. These coins were struck with a specific type and date depending which party a person belongs to. With the help of this coin, spies would be identified and captured.
The third story was about an American soldier who carried a Philippine silver coin struck with a unit insignia. This soldier was to attend a meeting with Philippine guerrillas during World War II. This coin was very important because it was used to identify which soldier was an ally in the mission against the Japanese.
It is also said that Colonel William Quinn was the first to use the challenge coins. He gave coins to the soldiers who served in his Infantry Regiment during the 1950’s during the post-Korean Conflict.
Today a custom challenge coin is used as an award, given for higher morale and commemoration. The Air Force uses Airman’s coin as a medallion for personnels who have completed their training. Leatherneck Magazine gave challenge coins to some of its readers during their 90th anniversary.
The history of the challenge coins only proves its importance. These have been witnesses of war and loyalty. Because of its significance, acquiring a challenge coin is truly an honor.
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